How do you like your streetcar tracks?

San Francisco is looking at how Toronto cyclists deal with streetcar tracks. The answer: not very easily. Toronto streetcar tracks have been the bane of many cyclists, both experienced and green. Being one of just a handful of North American cities with streetcars, Toronto could provide valuable information.

What can San Francisco learn from the Toronto experience? What ways can cities improve the safety for cyclists crossing tracks?

Experienced bicyclists tend to figure out the best way to navigate the tracks, but what can be done to prevent less-experienced bicyclists from getting stuck in the rail depressions so regularly?

In Toronto, where bicyclists also have to contend with a maze of tracks, several at-grade railroad crossings are equipped with a rubber flange filler that is jammed down into the cracks of trolley tracks. The rubber is firm enough that it doesn't compress when a bike passes over it, but when a streetcar comes it squishes down and doesn't cause the train to derail.

The material is not used for Toronto's extensive network of streetcar tracks in the city's core, however, and bikes routinely get caught in the tracks. "The at-grade railroad crossings do have some of that incorporated, but certainly not the main hazards to cyclists, which are the arterial road streetcar tracks," said Yvonne Bambrick, Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union.

"There’s a lot of places where several tracks meet and turn. They’re trickier to navigate, but folks that have been at it for a while have figured out how to do it. It’s not that hard: you pay attention and learn how to do it, it’s all good. It does catch people fairly regularly."


I was caught by streetcar tracks once, back in the late '70s. That taught me a lesson I've never forgotten. Likewise, a little after that, one of the railway tracks on Queens Quay sent me flying. Another lesson learned.

I also know an experienced cyclist who broke his arm one day at Queen and Spadina.

But really, I've cycled along Queen a lot, and of course Queen West is a major bicycling route (marked or not). I haven't seen any track-related accidents along there. By contrast, I've seen two pretty good wipeouts on the waterfront trail.

The final answer may just be, "don't be careless". The streetcar tracks are always there, always in your mind as something to beware of. Whereas on a nice day along the Martin Goodman, you're zipping along with hardly a care in the world, when you miscalculate and tag a rollerblader....

put on a helmet...

unless the thud of your skull bouncing off asphalt doesn't bother you and you're cool with the resulting problem of drool/diapers.

A wet streetcar track can be just as slippery as glare ice. Normally there is a fine layer of micro-grit that sits on the road which allows your tires to grip through water layer. Such micro-grit does not stay on the highly polished surface of the tracks and as a result you will have very low friction. The situation is sort of analogous to walking on ice versus walking on ice with cinder on it.

So... just don't try todo anything on it like turning, braking or pedaling and you'll be OK.

P.S. The same is true of any sort of paint on the road. The effect isn't as strong though.

Doing a left-turn like a regular vehicle can be fun. From Spadina to Dundas from the left-turning lane, I make a sharp left to cross the Spadina tracks, make another sharp right to cross the Dundas tracks (heading straight toward the cars waiting in the opposite direction), and make another sharp left to continue on Dundas.

The gymanastics one has to go through to make a left turn over tracks is incredible. Your head is down, watching for tracks instead of watching traffic. To a driver, who hasn't wiped out on a bike in these tracks, it must look pretty confusing. We're constantly reminded to ride predictably and I'm not sure that this kind of manouver meets that criteria. I wiped out on my very first day riding in TO. So now I just do the corner to corner cross. Maybe one day I'll have the skill.

You have to focus your attention solely on the tracks when you're navigating a crossing or turn through them. Busy intersections being what they are downtown, this is dangerous to focus your attention on just one thing, to the exclusion of all else.

When I'm crossing, all I can do is take a mental snap shot of everything around me and how I expect it to develop over the course of my crossing and then zero in on the tracks and just hope to hell I can trust the traffic around me.

Newer cyclists are going by the rules taught to them - which is to pay attention to everything. This creates a dangerous situation on the tracks as they may not be looking at the right spot at the right time.

A broken arm is almost a given when you get caught in the tracks. I don't know why the city wouldn't install their simple safety feature on all tracks, or at least all intersections. It can't be THAT expensive, can it?

Street car tracks are the number one obstacle for me when riding downtown. I do look for the wires above the street to get oriented, but a fresh snow covered intersection of cris-crossed rails is a dubious challenge for anyone.

We';ve known about them for a long long time.
I must find a letter/dep about it and send it to the TTC; there's some institutional movement on the whole responsibility of tracks, but not any concern about cycling safety nor improvements to the routes that have tracks on them, which is where a lot of us now ride, with extra dangers. These tracks are incredible volumes of concrete for the red rumbles and thus they dictate lane position: no re-arranging streets readily for bike lanes if they have streetcar tracks, the only really viable option being a two-in-one-lane in a curb lane - Queen St. W. is best for the first application.
One trick that I've developed into using is to kinda hop the front wheel over the first one and if the back one drags in a bit (just a somewhat thinner tire) at least I won't go pitching forward. I find the Can-bike warnings of 90degrees only excessively safe vs. actually doing something about them like inserts.

Well, in addition to the omnipresent tracks, eastbound Queen is one mess of utility cuts and comically-bad patches. Parkdale and the area around Spadina are the worst--Parkdale is almost unridable--but there are other horrible bits, like around University.

The "Urban Clearway" on Bay, northbound between Queen and Dundas is also in horrible shape.

And construction or utilities trucks that push cyclists to the very edge of the tracks....and of course the film people who love to put up pylons everywhere to mark their territory....

I'm surprised at how many people here risk making left turns on streets with intersecting streetcar lines. As you've said, it's impossible to watch traffic AND the streetcar lines at the same time. In most cases, this is where I get off my bike and do a two-stage left turn.

I don't see what the big deal is, you wait until there's a gap in oncoming traffic, then you pay attention to the angles. While its fine to get off your bike and cross-cross like a pedestrian, I don't see why its a risky move for those who are comfortable with the turn.

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